Chipotle Sustainable Farming: Storytelling Fail?

Chipotle recently won a Grand Prix for a short animated film that tells a “moving story” about sustainable farming.

Does it work?  I didn’t think so.

Watch this clip.



I must admit, I haven’t researched the company’s performance (as per the comment from GreyNet below), but to me, successful storytelling lies not only in the performance of a business, but also in the credibility of the brand telling the story, the authenticity of the story itself, and most importantly, the motives behind it.

Moreover, I’m not entirely sure the performance of Chipotle is directly related to the storytelling strategy adopted by the brand.

I felt the story is contrived.

Chipotle is a fast food business as is McDonald’s -its antithesis- and ironically, one of it’s biggest shareholders until 2006, and the reason behind its explosive growth.

The business (and it is a business), carved a niche in the market by capitalising on consumers’ guilt and unwarranted fear of industrialised farming and supposed mistreatment of animals.  It did this regardless of the negative consequences this may have on the industry as a whole and the millions of workers who rely on it for a living.

It may very well be that the shareholders are well-intentioned, nonetheless I feel the story is unbelievable. It also solicited undesired reactions from the audience it’s meant to target.

Read the comments under the YouTube Video.  A sample…

chipotel comment

Update (22 June 2013)

Chipotle is in the news again.

A year after the launch of their storytelling campaign, they are now confirming that some of the ingredients in their food (G) is genetically modified.

Now over to you

Do you buy the Chipotle brand story? Share your thoughts below…

  • GreyNet

    That ‘simply unbelievable’ story is actually based on the Chipotle founder’s real-life experience. Might be worth doing some research instead of making sweeping statements and judging effectiveness on a brand which has seen it’s stock increase in price by 50% over the last twelve months

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  • Lukas Widmer

    I feel sorry for the guy who has never seen chicken grown outside a chicken house. But I live in Europe. For me the message doesn’t lack credibility. There are so many examples of really badly treated animals.
    Of course it is the consumers who decide in the end. But how should you make them decide if not by showing them that there is an alternative?

    • Omar Kattan

      Thanks for your comment Lukas.

      I do concede that there are many examples of badly treated animals.

      However, there are just as many examples of ongoing efforts to improve the process of animal slaughter even by some of the world’s largest fast food chains

      Bottom line is: the majority of consumers will always demand cheap food. This can only be achieved via industrialised farming.

      Chipotle’s storytelling strategy -I felt- is driven by self-interest and capitalises on consumer guilt and false perceptions of the industry.

      While this strategy may work for them -as a small segment of the market might buy their story- it’s not sustainable for the industry as a whole and may lead to severe negative repercussions.

      This is why I felt it was a fail.

      btw, I’ve re-edited the post since your comment to clarify my position further.

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  • Jim Signorelli

    Omar. I typically love your slant on things, but this time I’m having some difficulty.

    First, I wouldn’t worry about Chipotle’s impact on the fast food industry. The 8X monthly fast feeder doesn’t really care about what is being communicated in this commercial. This is targeted to a very unique segment….more foodie, more “fast casual” than fast food.

    Second, I never think it is worth an advertiser’s time and money to change beliefs, simply because they can’t. If people believe something communicated through a TV commercial, it is because they are already predisposed towards that belief. Chipotle is merely capitalizing on a found belief that already exists. Take what Chick-Fil-A is doing right now. Does anyone really think that their stance against gay marriage is going to change anyone’s mind on that issue? I’m not sure I’ll ever eat there again, but I do know they did wonders for their brand, and with their targets, as they capitalized on a belief that already exists.

    Third, and don’t start throwing furniture, I think this is one of the best examples of StoryBranding that I’ve ever seen. It associates Chipotle with a belief and a value system., a cause. Chipotle’s story has a true theme. Clearly, you disagree with it’s theme. But there can be no denying that this effort stands out a category that usually resorts to brag and boast claims of bigger, better, fresher, tastier etc…. Furthermore, because I work in this category, I can tell you that it has been incredibly effective. Chipotle has a rocket strapped to its back.

    Sorry to disagree. You are usually so right-on in my opinion.

    • Omar Kattan

      Thanks for your view Jim.

      I do realise that I might be standing alone on this one. It’s just that something about their strategy doesn’t sit well with me.

      The use of storytelling by Chipotle in this instance told part of the story but not the full one. I feel that there is an element of manipulation to achieve business goals.

      I do have to give them credit for fuelling the debate though.

      Maybe I’m just jaded, or even a bit naive; either way, I will be eagerly watching how this pans out.

      Thanks again for your insightful comment Jim, and btw, I’m a huge fan of your work!

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  • Mark A Carbone

    This was an amazing video and not a failure. You seem to have a thing against freedom and free trade from what I can tell. Just because they are a large corporation does not make them bad. Amazing commercial and awesome that they are supporting sustainable farming. I suppose you have the same to say about Whole Foods – best super market in the country. Same for Costco.

    • Omar Kattan

      Mark, I simply expressed my point of view about this video. Freedom (as you point out) provides me with the right to do so as it provides you with the right to express your views about my post. I did not think it was “amazing” but very much contrived (reasons stated). In any case this is why there is a (?) in the title and why the comments are open for anyone to express their views. Thank for your contribution to the debate.

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  • Omar Kattan

    My views on Chipotle’s latest brand story: The Scarecrow:

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